Improving Self-esteem

Women and girls all over the world feel pressure to be beautiful in order to be successful in life.

A girl’s belief in her beauty is often closely correlated with her belief in herself, her confidence in the future and her sense of self-worth.

Widespread low self-esteem

Dove global research shows that only 4% of women describe themselves as ‘beautiful’, and that self-criticism and anxieties about appearance and beauty develop at a young age. In fact, Dove research shows nine out of ten girls would change something about their physical appearance.

Limiting potential

As young teens, girls develop a sense of what being beautiful means to them. But the beauty standards and ideals girls are striving for are almost always impossible to achieve. The pressure to achieve such beauty ideals causes anxiety that negatively impacts the lives of girls. Our research, for example, shows six in ten girls withdraw from participating fully in life’s activities because they do not feel they look good enough. Other problems arising include making risky choices for their health and taking extreme actions including cosmetic surgery.

Dove – a clear mission

Experts agree that to reach their full potential in life, girls must develop strong body confidence. Society can help women by alleviating beauty pressures and creating opportunities that help girls derive confidence from their beauty.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) is a global initiative set up ‘to ensure the next generation of women grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look, to help them reach their full potential'.

It is important to note that when we talk about our desire to reach girls and women, we define ‘reach’ as a meaningful interaction in an individual’s life through, for example, at least one hour of self-esteem education. Our Global Advisory Board has recommended that this is the typical minimum level of interaction needed to start making a difference to an individual’s self-esteem.

Targets & Performance

Improve self-esteem

With our Dove brand we are helping millions of young people to improve their self-esteem through educational programmes.

  • By 2015 we aim to have helped 15 million young people.
  • 13 million young people have received our help since 2005. Over 2 million participated in the programme in 22 countries in 2013.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved

Our perspective

We have accelerated the reach of the Dove Self-Esteem Project in recent years and strengthened the rigour and quality of our interventions. We are making steady progress towards our target. Our greatest impact in 2013 has been through our in-school education programme, representing 59% of young people reached. Geographically, our greatest impact was in North America, with 60% of young people reached in this region.

There were three main accelerators of our progress in 2013. These were a global partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a powerful new digital presence for the Dove Self Esteem Project, and the expansion into new markets. As we look beyond 2015, our focus will be on expanding the reach of the Dove social mission into new geographies.

Partnering with the world’s largest female voluntary organisation

In 2013, we announced a global partnership with the world’s largest voluntary organisation dedicated to women and girls, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Through this partnership, Dove will reach a further 3.5 million girls with quality self-esteem education over the next three years at half the average cost per intervention. The partnership also assists our entry into new markets.

Dove goes digital

We have developed a powerful new digital presence for the Dove Self-Esteem Project(Link opens in a new window), with interactive interventions that contribute directly towards our target.

Early results are impressive, clearly indicating the potential of this new platform to deliver quality education, at scale, in a very relevant way for our consumers. 4,000 people were reached through the site in the first month in the UK alone - that represents four times the average monthly reach of the previous year. Even more encouraging is the feedback from parents and teachers visiting the new platform, demonstrating the relevance and quality of its content such as, "I want to return again and again" and "This is one of the best parenting sites I have ever seen".

The new online platform was amplified by a partnership with Mumsnet, the world’s largest mothers’ blogging network, and showcased in London on International Day of the Girl, amongst other high profile activities. 

Global expansion

The global roll-out of the Dove Self-Esteem Project is now underway. Whilst it remains too early to forecast the impact of this expansion, the move into Asia and Latin America will undoubtedly accelerate our ability to tackle this important issue.

A new Global Advisory Board has been created, comprising 11 high-profile experts in self-esteem, body confidence and girls’ development. These experts have been closely involved in the creation of an evidence-based framework for developing content and educational resources for all Dove Self-Esteem Project interventions. They also lend endorsement to all newly created materials.

Our greatest challenge is the roll-out of the Dove Self-Esteem Project into new geographies. This is difficult because of the limited scientific and social research available into the issue of low body confidence and poor self-esteem in the regions in which the Project is not yet present. Great sensitivity will be required as we develop our understanding of the relevant pressures on girls within each market and shape our programmes in a way that is culturally appropriate.

We are engaging both local and global experts in body confidence to develop our launch approaches in each new market. Through collaborating in this way and carefully piloting our programmes on a smaller scale, we are confident of laying solid foundations for locally-relevant programmes that can be rapidly scaled up once proven.

Building growth

Dove is our largest Personal Care brand, available in over 130 countries and with an annual turnover of over €3 billion. It continues to grow strongly, experiencing its fourth consecutive year of double-digit or near double-digit growth in 2013.

Part of the success of our Dove Self-Esteem Project has been an increased willingness among consumers to spread the brand’s positive message and to purchase Dove’s products. 

A study by research company Millward Brown shows that amongst women in the US who are aware of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, 62% would recommend the Dove brand to others. That is 16% more than amongst those who are not aware of the project. In Canada, the research showed that 82% of women who are aware of the project are more likely to purchase Dove.

These positive business results, as well as success in boosting women’s self-esteem, motivate us to continue to invest in the project.

Involving our employees

‘Dove Day’ is an annual employee engagement event where Unilever employees volunteer their time to help deliver self-esteem workshops to girls.

In 2013, in total, 24,000 staff were reached across 81 sites in 26 countries. This represents a 15% increase on the previous year’s Dove Day reach. 1,380 staff attended Dove Day events (a doubling of 2012 participation). 12,000 young people were reached as a result of Dove Day 2013 (an increase of 57% on the previous year). 90% of employees feel proud of working for Unilever following Dove Day and the Dove Self-Esteem Project. 91% of staff said they would recommend attending Dove Day as a valuable experience to their colleagues.

Vaseline Skin Fund

Skin conditions such as eczema often cause great discomfort and can have a negative impact on people's well-being. Vaseline has been an expert in caring for skin since 1870. It is therefore well placed to provide support and information.

The Vaseline Skin Fund (VSF), guided by an external Advisory Board, aims to provide access to knowledge, advice and support for three million people suffering from skin conditions.

The Fund works with not-for-profit and educational organisations to support people living with conditions such as eczema and ichthyosis. An educational film called ‘Starting from Scratch’, produced with the US’s National Eczema Association, reached an estimated additional 53,000 patients and their carers in 2012-13. This brings the cumulative total for people benefiting from programmes supported by the Vaseline Skin Fund to over 2.7 million people since 2006.

The programme with the greatest reach so far has been the medical education unit on psychodermatology and skincare. This is a web-based education programme that leads to a certificate for doctors. The programme has been accessed by medical practitioners in more than 100 countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, India and Egypt and has helped to support over 1.5 million end beneficiaries.

British Skin Foundation

Our research into skincare is supported by the British Skin Foundation (BSF). Working closely with the British Association of Dermatologists, patient support groups and many of the country’s leading dermatology departments, the BSF is the only charity dedicated to supporting dermatologists and skin science.

To support their own research, companies and brands (such as Comfort Pure and Persil Non Bio) approach BSF for an independent view. BSF dermatologists visit these companies’ laboratories, discuss skin health issues with their scientists and are given full access to product research and data.

A product carrying the BSF logo means that the British Skin Foundation has independently approved the research that has gone into it. We are proud that all of our Persil Non Bio and Comfort Pure packs display the BSF logo.

For more information, visit: opens in a new window)

"Anxiety about appearance can put life on a limitless pause button. Today there is more pressure than ever on young girls and boys to be physically perfect.”

Dr Nancy Etcoff, director, program in aesthetics and well-being, department of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.